The Cipher is the first novel in the Crosspointe series by Diana Pharoah Francis. The next book, The Black Ship, is supposed to be out in November of this year and the third book, tentatively titled The Turning Tide, is in progress. From what I have read about the series in brief descriptions and an even briefer excerpt from the third book, each novel has a different set of characters although they all take place in the fictional world of Crosspointe.
Ever since she was a child, Lucy Rampling has known she has the ability to detect majick. Unfortunately, everyone believed her so-called gift was a ploy for attention except for a stranger who tried to kill nine-year-old Lucy after she asked him about his majickal items. This taught Lucy to keep her talent a secret, although she developed an illegal obsession with collecting ciphers, majickal items created by the famous sorcerer Errol Cipher that often are cursed. One day Lucy senses and seeks out a cipher that attaches itself to her wrist, unable to be removed and invisible to all but Lucy, who becomes more reckless and dangerous the longer she wears it. Even worse, someone has discovered Lucy’s store of ciphers and threatens to reveal their knowledge if she does not agree to do as she’s told. As a member of the royal family that already has a shaky standing in the kingdom and so little funds that they must all work for a living, the consequences of this revelation could be devastating for the Ramplings.
During a particularly bad storm at sea, Lucy finds herself required to take charge as the senior official in the vicinity while she is on duty at her job as a customs inspector. A magical barrier protects Crosspointe from sylveth, majick which changes anything it touches whether alive or inanimate into strange and unique creatures. When sylveth washes up on shore during bad weather, those infected must be killed. Lucy’s friend Jordan stays to aid her and keep her drunk enough to handle it and introduces her to Marten Thorpe, one of the best captains around. Due to his reputation as a gambler and therefore lack of integrity as a human being, Lucy takes an instant dislike to him; however, she will not be able to get rid of Marten’s attentions so easily.
When I picked up The Cipher, I was in the mood for a book that would hold my attention and be easy to read without a lot of mental effort. It certainly suited this purpose in the beginning and kept me reading although it was never what I considered to be a very good book – just a mildly entertaining one.
Lucy begins as a decent character – a determined and hard-working woman in spite of her social status as cousin to the king. Yet she despises Marten for his gambling addiction and considers his illegal actions to mean he is lacking integrity and rather stupid. Considering Lucy’s own unlawful cipher collection, this is rather hypocritical. While hypocrisy is a very realistic human failing, it is one that makes her difficult to like at times. By the time I got to the last 75 pages or so of the book, I found that I no longer cared about what happened to Lucy or Marten and just wanted to be finished with the story.
The romantic aspect of the novel seemed forced and not very believable to me. Lucy is very harsh toward Marten and Marten is a gambling smooth talker. I suppose it was one of those cases where I could see no reason for either of them to like the other. Plus at times the romance was just plain cheesy, such as this conversation during dinner:
“You still look hungry,” she said.
A thrill rippled deliciously over her skin at the smoky desire coloring his voice.
“There’s plenty to eat. Don’t stop on my account.”
Thoughtfully he set down his glass and stood, coming around the table to pull her to her feet. He bent, his breath whispering over her lips. “I am hungry on your account.”
Of course, it leads to passion and kissing and all that, but fortunately scenes such as this one do not actually occur often in the book.
My biggest problem with the book is one I can only be vague about to avoid spoilers: the ending. It was very contrived and far too convenient.
The Cipher begins as a somewhat interesting story but characters who overstay their welcome and a terrible ending ruined this one for me. I will not be reading the other books in the Crosspointe series.
Read the first chapter for free.